How to troubleshoot emails

Emails are the glue that holds the internet together but it’s the worst glue possibly ever. The technology is complicated, insecure, sloppy, etc. but it is essential for any online work.

So what do we do if our emails are not working, like when you send an important email to a client but the email never arrives at the recipient? It can be frustrating to figure out what the problem may be, so below are a few tips you can do to troubleshoot your emails!

Troubleshooting emails can be difficult because there can be various reasons why your emails are not working for example:

  1. Incorrect email address or typos.
  2. Anti-Spam rules, firewalls, blacklists, etc.
  3. Incorrect server settings, wrong configuration, and software.
  4. Rules/filters set up by the hosting company.
  5. Interference from plugins.
  6. Network issues.

With so many factors involved, it can be difficult to ‘guess’ why your emails are not being sent or received. Below are some of the steps you can take to troubleshoot your emails.

Step 1: Gather more data

It is good to check the following information before diving deeper into the problems with your emails.

  • Check the “from” email address
  • Check the “to” email address
  • Check the Carbon Copy (CC) address
  • Check the Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) address

Knowing which one of the variables it can be is already half the battle won.


Step 2: Check your spam folder

Look at your spam folders if your emails are not being sent or received. Below are a few folders to check:

  • Spam Folder
  • Trash Folder
  • Spam Settings
  • Firewall or any blocking settings
  • Any spam settings that may be in place.

When you are checking these steps it is to assume that your emails are getting flagged as spam or being blocked because of firewalls/filtering/blocking rules. Emails landing in spam are the number 1 reason for emails not being sent or received. When emails are blocked or flagged as spam it is usually because of free, 3rd party email services like Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and so forth which use a lot of anti-spam filters, which unfortunately also block a lot of legitimate emails.

If you discovered that your emails are getting blocked or flagged as spam there are a few things you can do to rectify it.


  • If you have control over the recipient, you can adjust the settings for example: lower the spam threshold, and add the email address to your permanent contact list.
  • If you don’t have control over the recipient, the best way will be to resend the email to a different email address.

Step 3: Check your plugins

If you are using WordPress or some other CMS to send and receive emails, the next step is to troubleshoot your plugins. For example, emails can be sent using a few types of plugins, for example:

  • Contact form plugins.
  • Forum or chat plugins.
  • Membership plugins.
  • Plugins that send alerts for when emails are received, read, etc.
  • E-commerce or shopping cart plugins.

If you don’t receive emails or you can’t send emails because of plugins, then there is most probably a problem with your plugin, you can contact the developer of the plugin for help or you can try one of the following options:

  • Plugin settings
  • Other plugins (e.g. security plugins, caching plugins, etc.) that may be interfering with/blocking the outgoing email
  • Typos in the email address
  • Server configuration
  • Site error/debug logs

Step 4: Check the server you are using

Servers frequently employ their own set of anti-spam, firewall, or blacklist rules. These features work well but they do sometimes result in a lot of FALSE positives. Below are some of the settings you can look out for:

  • Check server settings (Email settings, firewall rules, etc.)
  • Check the server’s DNS, MX, and Zone records
  • Check the server’s “mail queue” to see if it contains any emails
  • Check the server error logs
  • Check the server documentation (hosting rules, email policy, etc.)

An easy way to rule out any server issues is to try the following tests:

  • Try sending the email from a different site on the same server
  • Try sending the email using a different plugin on the same site